NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) 20150023056: On Possible Arc Inception on Low Voltage Solar Array
Publication date 2015-08-31
Topics NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS), LOW VOLTAGE, SOLAR ARRAYS, ELECTROSTATIC CHARGE, LOW EARTH ORBITS, AGING (MATERIALS), SPACECRAFT CHARGING, SYSTEM FAILURES, ELECTRIC DISCHARGES, FAILURE ANALYSIS, AEROSPACE ENVIRONMENTS, ARC DISCHARGES, STATIC DISCHARGERS, Vayner, Boris,
Recent analysis of spacecraft failures during the period of 1990-2013 demonstrated clearly that electrostatic discharges caused more than 8 of all registered failures and anomalies, and comprised the most costly losses (25) for operating companies and agencies. The electrostatic discharges on spacecraft surfaces are the results of differential charging above some critical (threshold) voltages. The mechanisms of differential charging are well known, and various methods have been developed to prevent a generation of significant electric fields in areas of triple junctions. For example, low bus voltages in Low Earth Orbit plasma environment and slightly conducting layer over coverglass (ITO) in Geosynchronous Orbit surroundings are believed to be quite reliable measures to prevent discharges on respective surfaces. In most cases, the vulnerable elements of spacecraft (solar arrays, diode boards, etc.) go through comprehensive ground tests in vacuum chambers. However, tests articles contain the miniscule fragments of spacecraft components such as 10-30 solar cells of many thousands deployed on spacecraft in orbit. This is one reason why manufacturing defects may not be revealed in ground tests but expose themselves in arcing on array surface in space. The other reason for ineffectiveness of discharge preventive measures is aging of all materials in harsh orbital environments. The expected life time of modern spacecraft varies within the range of five-fifteen years, and thermal cycling, radiation damages, and mechanical stresses can result in surface erosion on conductive layers and microscopic cracks in coverglass sheets and adhesive films. These possible damages may cause significant increases in local electric field strengths and subsequent discharges. The primary discharges may or may not be detrimental to spacecraft operation, but they can produce the necessary conditions for sustained arcs initiation. Multiple measures were developed to prevent sustained discharges between adjacent strings, and many ground tests were performed to determine threshold parameters (voltage and current) for sustained arcs. And again, manufacturing defects and aging in space environments may result in considerable decrease of critical threshold parameters. This paper is devoted to the analysis of possible reasons behind arcing on spacecraft with low bus voltages.
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